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If You Do only One Thing Before Your Next IEP Team Meeting, Do This.

Feb. 26, 2016

No, I’m serious. Not AT the meeting. I mean, get a great night’s sleep the night before your meeting to review your child’s IEP (the “PPT meeting,” here in Connecticut, and the IEP team meeting for the rest of you).

I’m not saying that nothing else is important. If you have data to bring with you that shows your child’s failure to make progress under your school district’s program, that’s important too. Reviewing draft goals and objectives so you are prepared to ask the team questions? Absolutely. Sitting down with your advocate or attorney to clarify any requests you want to make? Of course.

But I’m also saying … if your nerves are frayed, if you have a bazillion things to do, if you feel like you just can’t focus … being well-rested and calm going into your child’s IEP meeting is the best way to prepare.

Even at the best of times, being a parent of a child with special educational needs is incredibly stressful. Some parents, bleary-eyed and tearful, tell me that a GOOD meeting happens when no one shoots down the parent’s request mid-sentence, or attempts to obfuscate progress reports with meaningless jargon, or claims that an evaluation the parent requests is not needed, just because. The bad meetings? Let’s not focus on that, because most or at least many of you have seen the worst of the worst.

It’s great to feel prepared with reams of data and rehearsed requests for program revisions or changes in placement. I absolutely encourage you to do what you feel most comfortable with in order to feel confident and prepared for a realistic outcome walking into that meeting, with the assistance of your consultants and advocates. But I also want you to know how important it is to keep those emotions in check, remain cool and in control (of your feelings and reactions, not of what the staff is doing or where the administration is heading during the course of a meeting), and to not let the pettiness or offensiveness of any one teacher or administrator’s behavior at an IEP meeting throw you off course.

The best way to do that, next to familiarizing yourself with your child’s needs and being prepared to articulate them, is to be well-rested. Remember that it’s very difficult for parents to screw anything up during the course of an IEP team meeting. Beyond keeping your cards close to the vest, all you really need to do at the meeting is:

  1. Listen carefully;

  2. Take Notes or record the meeting; and

  3. Ask Questions when it’s your turn to provide input.

Forget something? Send a follow-up email. Request a meeting with a specific teacher or service provider. If needed, request another PPT/IEP team meeting. Even a unilateral placement notice can be made in writing, following a PPT, at least ten business days before you remove your child from school, if you don’t give this notice at the PPT. People, these things are fixable, and almost nothing is carved in stone when it comes to your child’s IEP.

Actually, it’s more likely that one of the team members will slip up during the course of the meeting. That’s why you need to engage in ACTIVE LISTENING, take good notes, and review and reflect before making any requests or providing your opinion or input. This is also why the staff has the parents and their representatives wait outside the room while they hold a pre-meeting without you, usually with the school district’s attorney. Is it always illegal pre-determination? Well, no, not always. But if the team then convenes, the special education director is doing all the talking, and everyone else is eerily silent or curtly robotic in their responses at best … you are wise to make a note of this.

So speak with your advocate or attorney, review your child’s key records and make notes to prepare, and most of all, be well-rested so you can be calm and focused when you meet to review your child’s program. Parents may feel overwhelmed and helpless when faced with opposition from their child’s educators, but they have more power than they realize when they can keep their wits about them in the most challenging of these moments.